Updated February 2021.
Accounting is a great profession, but it’s not for everyone. At BVOH Search & Consulting, we often hear from candidates who are burned out from public accounting and want to transition to finance.
I understand where they’re coming from because I made the switch myself. I worked in public accounting for two years at the start of my career, but I found that the field wasn’t right for me. Fortunately, I had developed a strong relationship with one of my clients who hired me onto their finance team. The move was fairly seamless because I knew the company’s financials well and was already familiar with my colleagues. I was also young and early in my career, so going in a different direction wasn’t difficult.
My path was smoother than most because as a client-turned-employer, I already knew that I would work well in the organization. But you can make a career change from accounting to finance even without a pre-existing relationship. Most people who switch careers have spent two to four years in public accounting, only to realize that they don’t love the field. The audit lifestyle doesn’t suit them, and they think financial planning and analysis (FP&A) holds more promise.While I empathize with them, I also encourage them to reflect on their decisions and plans before acting. It is easier to change careers when you’re young than when you’ve worked in the same field for ten years, but it still deserves the appropriate consideration. Here’s how to do it right:
Make Sure You Want to Leave Accounting
When someone tells me they want to make a career change from accounting to finance, the first thing I say is this: “Describe to me what you think FP&A is.” People often dislike what they’re doing and view finance as an escape. But they’ll be disappointed if FP&A isn’t what they expected. If you’ve already earned your CPA, you want to be sure of your decision before leaving.
The second question I’ll ask is whether accounting is really the problem. Are there other factors ― the audit lifestyle, client service, long hours, compliance requirements — that are making you unhappy? Auditors sometimes become disheartened because they feel that they’re not impacting the company, but rather looking back on what other people have done and checking boxes. It’s easy to become disengaged with this mentality.
I went into FP&A because I wanted to look at the future rather than analyze what had already happened. The opportunity to create financial models that could propel my company forward appealed to me. When a candidate gives a similar reason for wanting to make a career change from accounting to finance, I know they understand the difference and what their new job will entail. However, if someone is simply craving more technical work, they might find the right position within accounting. They may be able to shift into a different role within the company rather than transition to finance.
Know Whether the Transition Is Workable
If you’re only a few years into your accounting career, you can transition to FP&A without taking a significant pay cut. But the longer you’ve been in the field, the more significant a sacrifice you’ll make. You’ll need to take a step back to take a step forward — you may need to accept lower pay or invest in training before you land the job you want. Both of those may impact the lifestyle to which you’ve grown accustomed. This reality intensifies as your income level rises, especially in high cost of living cities like San Francisco or Austin.
Brush Up On Your Excel Skills
The public accountants who successfully move into finance possess strong Excel skills. Excel is the go-to platform in the financial services industry. It will be essential to familiarize yourself with the software or enroll in a class to brush up before applying for jobs.
Work with a Recruiter
You need someone advocating for you as you create your path into finance. Recruiters can connect you with potential employers that interest you and who can set up interviews you might otherwise not have access to. They may also help you break into roles you hadn’t considered.
Open-mindedness is essential during this switch because you won’t have a wealth of options available to you at the outset. But if you’re willing to spend a few years in an industry that may not be your number one choice, you can leverage that experience into your dream job.
Find a Mentor
Even if you’re 100 percent certain that you want to go into finance, you should still expect a steep learning curve. When I started my first finance job, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. My boss was great, but the company was a startup and went through a round of layoffs soon after I started. If I had had a mentor for a longer period of time, I could have grown much faster.
Look for a strong mentor who can advise you throughout your finance career. This person should prepare you for your new job and offer counsel and guidance as you grow. Making the career change from accounting to finance is rewarding if you’re in it for the right reasons. As much as I like accounting, I really enjoy the forward-facing aspect of finance. If an FP&A career calls to you, don’t be afraid to take the leap, as long as you’re doing so mindfully.
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